Essentials: How To Support Students Affected By ACEs And Trauma (With Rebecca Brooks)

Essentials: How To Support Students Affected By ACEs And Trauma (With Rebecca Brooks)

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Working with pupils affected by ACEs or a history of trauma and you're not sure how to support them? Or maybe you're working with two pupils from the same family, where one child is presenting explosive behaviour - yet their brother or sister seems okay?

In this Essentials episode, you'll learn from attachment- and trauma-expert Rebecca Brooks, who explains exactly how adverse childhood experiences affect your students' emotions and behaviour, and reveals the power of positive adult relationships to help them succeed in school.

Important links:

Get Rebecca's book, The Trauma and Attachment Aware Classroom.

Click here to hear all of episode 45

Get our FREE SEND Behaviour Handbook:

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan

Working with kids affected by trauma but not sure how to support them? Want to understand why one child affected by adverse childhood experiences might present emotionally charged behaviour that's difficult to manage in class, while one of their siblings appears, well, fine? And want ideas and strategies for supporting both those kids? Then you are in the right place because you're going to learn all that and more in this 10 minute episode of School Behaviour Secrets. Welcome to the School Behaviour Secrets podcast.

I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton, and we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and, of course students when classroom behaviour gets in the way of success. We're gonna share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural special needs, whole school strategy, and more, all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear the latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the School behaviour secrets podcast. Hi there, Simon Curigan here, and I'm back today with another special essentials episode where I share some key insights and strategies from an earlier episode that can have an impact for the students that you work with or wrapped up in a bite sized snackable episode. And if you're enjoying the podcast, please do remember to subscribe in your podcast app so you never miss another thing. This week, I'm gonna share part of a conversation that I had with Rebecca Brooks back in episode 45 on creating a trauma and attachment aware classroom. We're gonna join the conversation where I asked Rebecca, how come children, siblings, can have different responses to the same traumatic incidents? You get one child who's presenting very difficult, challenging, emotionally charged behaviour in the classroom, while, that child's got an older sibling, say, and their teachers are saying that they're fine because they're very quiet, very passive.

I ask what's going on here and how we can support both.

Rebecca Brooks

Yes. And this is a great question because I think this is a big issue for some children. I think what we're looking for there is children who, for example, never raised their hand, never asked help. They hand in work and it's clear that they didn't know what they were doing, but they never came to ask you for help. And sometimes as a teacher, that's frustrating. I said you could ask me for help if you didn't understand the question, but you never said.

Children are very avoidant. We're looking at procrastinating. We're looking at deflecting, maybe lying. We're looking at children who might be copying. So they're finding different ways to mask the fact that they don't know what they're doing, but they cannot bring themselves to make their needs known. So this is what we really talk about, children who cannot make their needs known and who have understood at some early points in their life that keeping your head down and being as compliant and invisible as possible is the best way to survive life, really. And I think in terms of the classroom, I think those would be the main things I'd be looking at. Children who appear withdrawn. No child really should be ultra compliant all of the time. You know, you expect a child occasionally to break out, you know, to do something. But children who don't do that, children who are perhaps a little bit ingratiating, I've used that word before.

It's a negative sounding word. Children who are going out of their way to make sure that they are viewed favourably if they're viewed at all, but then children who were always at the side, at the back, standing quietly, just be looking out for those children. Because I think, as you said, it's really tempting to focus all our attention on the children whose behaviour whose internal anxieties are acting out. But there are children whose internal anxieties are being turned inwards, and those can be more difficult to spot, but we can do a lot to help children in that situation.

Simon Currigan

In terms of support then, in your book, you say one of the most important ways of supporting pupils who have experienced early trauma is in developing positive adult relationships, particularly with a key adult in school. Yeah. So why is that key adult so important, and what should they be doing to help develop that trusting relationship and bond with the child?

Rebecca Brooks

So I think this takes place in the context of attachment relationships. Attachment relationships are important to children. For a young child, the preschool or the school becomes a secondary attachment base, really. And if you go to a preschool, you'll see that they have key members of staff. They put the children in little groups, and there's a key worker with each group, and it is to provide that secondary attachment base. So a child's primary attachment should be at the home with the caregiver, the parents, or whoever's caring for the child.

And then at preschool, the key worker provides a secondary attachment figure. They can do the handover in the morning. The child feels that sense of safety because they're being handed over from one set of hands that they trust and know to another set of hands that they trust and know. And we tend to drop that by the time children get to school.

We tend to think children shouldn't really need that anymore. But children who've had disrupted attachments and this can happen for a lot of reasons, by the way. Child having a disrupted attachment relationship is by no means always an indicator of, something gone awry at home. Children who have had extended stays in hospital, for example, having that secure attachment base at the school, sometimes children are not being handed over by a safe pair of hands. So to at least have one safe pair of hands available during the day, the key adult wouldn't be a counselor in this situation. You wouldn't be expected to discuss the children's traumatic please don't do that because actually what these children do not need is amateur therapy.

Nobody needs that. It's a checking point to reassure the children that they are being thought about and held in mind and that there is always a safe person that's available to them. And so in terms of what a key adult might actually do, it is checking in at greeting in the morning. Hello. How's things going? Checking in during the course of the day, perhaps at lunchtime, perhaps being available each week to have a chat if anything's going on. And some children will need a lot more support like that than others, and the conversations might be quite light or about schoolwork or about the child's pet. Certainly don't need to be about deep and meaningful personal things, but it is having that adult at school that makes you feel as though somebody cares about you and that you are safe with them. There's a lot of things in school that can be a bit anxiety inducing for children, really, and it can really lower their anxiety if they know that at the end of the day, they're gonna get to speak to nice Mr Smith or nice Miss Jones, who will have a quick word with them and and make sure everything's fine.

A key, I do, also can be really valuable in supporting transitions through holidays. A postcard home during the holiday, we're thinking of you. I'm looking forward to seeing you next term.

That can really support children. One of the things with attachment is that what we might call separation anxiety in anxiety in a young child can continue long beyond infancy and toddlerhood. So an attachment figure in school or a key adult can help to mitigate separation anxiety for children as well.

Simon Currigan

I heard someone talking about it was in the field of divorce actually, and they were describing how to form a trusting relationship. And they said, it's lots of small, almost inconsequential interactions held consistently over time. Is that the kind of thing we're talking about? None of them in themselves are particularly big or meaningful. Yeah. But it's that chain, that consistent checking in that helps the child learn to bond and trust with you.

Rebecca Brooks

Absolutely. And we might be surprised who children will turn to as being these key adults in their life. It may not be the school pastoral lead or whoever it is that you've assigned to that role.

It might be the librarian. It might be the caretaker. It might be the lady in the office that's kind to you when you've arrived late yet again because because of something that was very difficult that was happening at home and you couldn't get to school on time.

Those key adults can arise from anywhere. And actually, if the child themselves gravitates towards an adult, it sometimes could be a good idea to just allow that to happen really and sort of semi formalize that. And I think one of the things that's really important about this is we often think, especially as children get towards the end of primary and preparing for secondary school and through secondary school, that we want children to be more independent. And so we see sometimes in schools rotating teaching assistants because the child's getting too dependent. Schools may be concerned about the depth of the relationship that's going on there, and these do need to be professional relationships. But if we want children to be independent, we must understand that there are building blocks towards that.

And the first building block of that is dependence. Children need to be healthily dependent before they can learn to be healthily independent. And when we pick up a child at 6 or 10 or 15 who isn't very independent, just throwing them in the deep end of independence will not make them suddenly have those foundational understandings. Healthy dependence comes before healthy independence, and schools can provide a forum for healthy dependence to take place. And one of the ways of doing that is through a key adult.

Simon Currigan

You used a phrase earlier, the child learning that they can be held in mind. Can you talk us through what that means and why that's important?

Rebecca Brooks

Yeah. And I guess it comes back to sort of what I was saying about separation anxiety. But I think for children who've experienced particularly neglect or different kinds of less than ideal for early childhoods, There's often a strong drive not to be forgotten, you know, because survival for a child requires having an adult's attention or doing it yourself in some way. And so these are both behaviours that can come out of having a disrupted attachment relationship with child that really needs to get adult attention because that's what they've learned to do in order to get their needs met, or children that are really ambivalent towards adult attention because they're just gonna sort themselves out, and they don't trust any of you lot to do anything helpful anyway, and I'm just gonna sort myself out. For either of those groups of children, knowing that they are remembered, it seems like a small thing, but it's a really important thing to know that the adults in your life actually are thinking about you. You are held in their mind.

So there's like an invisible thread between you and the people that are supposed to be caring for you and nurturing you. And some children really need it to be demonstrated that that is happening because they haven't had the healthy start that would allow them to take that untrust or to just take it for granted. We're looking at children who don't have any reason to think that any of the adults in their life given monkeys about them really, and that plays out in all different kinds of ways. But consistently demonstrating to children in small ways that you do give a monkey's about them can make enormous amounts of difference in a child's just ability to settle down to what it is you're actually asking them to do.

Simon Currigan

And if you would like to hear my whole conversation with Rebecca, and I definitely recommend that you do, All you need to do is click the link at the bottom of the episode description and head back to original episode number 45. If you found today's episode helpful, please take a moment to rate and review us.

It takes just 30 seconds. And when you do, it makes a real difference to us and helps us grow the show. Because when people subscribe, it tells the algorithm gods to share school behaviour secrets with other listeners just like you, and that throws some good karma out there, helps us grow the show, and get this information to other teachers, school leaders, and parents who need this information. Thanks for listening today, and I look forward to seeing you next time on School behaviour secrets.

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)